Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Body of Missing Alabama Lawyer Is Found On Golf Course

That headline might sound like something out of The Onion. But it is deadly serious, and it accurately describes what appears to be a classic whodunit in Alabama. Given that the lawyer in question was the son of one of our state's most renowned businessmen, the case figures to rivet the Birmingham area for months.

Ironically, the case has a roundabout connection to our Legal Schnauzer story.

Major Bashinsky, son of the late Sloan Y. Bashinsky, was reported missing on March 3 when he did not return home from work at his law practice, where he specialized in wills, estates, trusts and financial planning. Golfers noticed an object floating in a water hazard on Monday at the Highland Park Golf Course in Birmingham, and a call went out to law-enforcement officials. The object proved to be a body, and it was recovered and positively identified as Bashinsky.

In published reports today, officials say they do not know how Bashinsky died--and they have not ruled out suicide.

Sloan Bashinsky was CEO of Golden Enterprises, makers of Golden Flake potato chips and other snacks. The elder Bashinsky was known for his longtime association with University of Alabama football and the late Hall of Fame coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant.

The Bashinsky family name came up on this blog during our reporting about William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, a Birmingham businessman with interests in real estate, oil, gaming, and investments. We described Hazelrig as a "person of interest" in my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) because of his financial ties to prominent Alabama Republicans--including Governor Bob Riley and first son Rob Riley--and a $5 million donation he gave for a new radiation-oncology facility at UAB.

Here is how we described Hazelrig's business and political affiliations:

Hazelrig remains a person of interest here at Legal Schnauzer. He gave a $5 million to UAB for construction of a new radiation oncology facility, and it's believed to be the largest individual donation in school history. Hazelrig has substantial business and political connections to Republican figures who almost certainly are not pleased to read the uncomfortable truths presented on this blog.

A $5 million gift will buy a lot of influence at most any university. And we know that Republicans in the Age of Rove have a proclivity for going after the jobs of people who cause them angst.

We also noted that Hazelrig's personal life had shown signs of spinning out of control. He has a horrific driving record, which includes some 20 traffic offenses and six suspensions of his license. In 2007, he was found guilty of DUI and speeding after being clocked driving 112 mph in a 55 zone on Highway 280.
Hazelrig's wife, Lynn S. Hazelrig, filed for divorce in 2005--and it figured to involve substantial assets. The case file was mysteriously sealed, and records indicate the parties worked out a divorce arrangement on their own.

One of Hazelrig's companies, W&H Investments, is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Estate of Sloan Bashinsky. Here is how we described the case:

The lawsuit, Estate of Sloan Bashinsky v. W&H Investments, involves heirs of one of Birmingham's most well-known business figures, Sloan Bashinsky. As CEO of Golden Enterprises, Bashinsky helped turn Golden Flake potato chips, and other assorted goodies, into snack-time favorites around the South.

Bashinsky died on August 2, 2005, and you can check out business filings related to his Last Will and Testament.

M. Owen Sims, John S. Stein, and John P. McElroy, all representatives of the Bashinsky Estate and Testamentary Trust, brought the lawsuit against W&H Investments, led by Hazelrig and his partner, Fred Wedell.

The case is complicated, and I am still examining the documents. But the main issue seems to be this: Bashinsky held interests in some 280-plus oil wells through a partnership involving W&H Investments, and the plaintiffs are seeking a proper accounting of those funds.

When I last checked the case file, it had become voluminous, appearing to include more than 100 documents. I saw no indication that Major Bashinsky was directly involved in the case, although it stands to reason that an estate/trust lawyer would have more than a passing interest in a lawsuit involving his father's estate.

From my inspection of the case file, I had the impression that the case was moving along, slowly, toward a normal resolution in such a dispute. I have no indication that anyone involved with the lawsuit was in any way connected to Major Bashinsky's disappearance and death.

I do suspect, however, that this will prove to be a criminal case. The possibility of suicide seems remote to me. Throwing yourself into a shallow body of water on a golf course? Seems to be an unlikely way for a 63-year-old man to commit suicide.

If it does prove to be a crime, I suspect its origins will be in the white-collar world of law and finance. Shortly after Bashinsky's disappearance, Golden Enterprises received a letter critical of the family for reaping millions of dollars in dividends at the expense of workers who manufacture Golden Flake snacks. The letter, apparently from a disgruntled employee, called the Bashinskys "vampires."

Our guess is that the letter is a hoax, an effort to turn suspicion toward middle-class folks who make potato chips and such for a living--and away from the big-dollar, white-collar world in which Major Bashinsky tended to move.

If it was a crime, it appears to have involved more than one person. It's hard to imagine how one person could place the body of a full-grown man in a shallow body of water, supposedly under the cover of darkness.

Did Major Bashinsky have an extremely disgruntled client? Had he crossed swords with an opposing party? Was he involved in a financial deal that went sour?

Alabamians will be paying attention.


Robby Scott Hill said...

I'm with Legal Schnauzer on the letter being a hoax.

I hail from a Working Class background and acquired my undergrad degree in Criminal Justice with courses in Criminalistics (lab work), Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) & Psychological Profiling before attending law school. I was trained by retired FBI Special Agent Louis M. Harris, SAIC of the Selma Field Office during the Judge Robert Vance Murder.

What is known so far about the disappearance & death Major Bashinsky does not fit the profile of a disgruntled blue collar perpetrator.

I will also be watching this case as it unfolds and I sincerely hope that the authorities will present the true facts and do justice in this case instead of engaging in yet another cover up.

Anonymous said...

The letter was mailed to several media outlets before Bashinsky went missing. It is not the first such letter, either.